I Am A Weapon of Mass Instruction
Just as I fell into teaching, I also fell out of it too. Despite the good job I had done for several years ignoring all the evidence before me, there came a point when I could’t deny the impact the job and lifestyle was having on me.
I was exhausted, burned out, stressed and depressed, and as much as quite a few of my colleagues would like to trot out,
“It’s all about the kids!” it was also very much about me. I could carry on - I reckoned that I had about another year left in me, but not much more than that - or I could make the very hard decision and, for the sake of my health and my sanity, leave. Despite what you might think, it was not an easy decision, although if I remember rightly I seemed to make it over the course of a couple of days. As a wiser and less insane colleague and friend pointed out though, I’d probably been building up to this decision for about three years.
Decision made, I went and spoke to the Head, and he was entirely supportive and sympathetic. When I put my decision in terms of my health, there wasn’t very much he could do but wish me the best. He hid very well the fact that this would have a big impact on the D&T Department for the following year as there wasn’t another Graphics specialist in the department, and we were also losing someone else to another school - it would be a weakened department as a result, but not for the last time I realised that this was no longer my problem to deal with or solve, and an enormous weight began to lift from me.
My Head of Department was a little less stoic than the Head had been, but again there wasn’t much she could say - the deed had been done and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.
I did feel bad though when I told a very dear and valued colleague about my decision and she almost started to cry. This was a very strong lady, who took no nonsense in her room at all, and here she was, welling up, but the fact remained that everyone knew I had made the right decision. As I told more people, and as the school gossip mill did its work, not one of the people I spoke to or who came to speak to me said that I had done the wrong thing, which was comforting to say the least. People said that as soon as I had made the decision to leave, I immediately relaxed and my shoulders dropped by several inches.
Despite the school running on gossip, news of my leaving stayed off the radar for longer than I thought, but it did get around to both staff and students eventually. Some of them I told myself, some of them found out, and I was both surprised and pleased at the reactions it provoked, even more so when towards the end of the year several students came to chat and say goodbye, some of them even claiming that I was their favourite teacher. It’s secretly what every teacher wants to hear, and it’s just a little sad that you only get to hear it in times like these.
I still think that teaching and education is vital, but the industry has changed and it continues to change, becoming much more demanding and challenging on top of the demands and challenges that the students put to us. Teaching is a difficult, exciting, fun, unpredictable, essential, brilliant, heartbreaking, powerful job, but it’s one that I had to walk away from for my own sake.
My last main job after I resigned was to make it through to the end of the year and then not make a complete fool of myself in the leaving speech. I agonised over what I was going to say in it, going through the various options many times: a rant at the state of education (which would be frowned upon and not go down very well at all), something funny, something odd, something poignant; I couldn’t decide. I still hadn’t decided when the day came, and I said as much when it was my turn to speak. In the end I fell back on an old trick, and used someone else’s words instead, and I used a quote that went down very well, and was according to one of my colleagues was very ‘classy’. It’s by Howard Nemerov, and goes like this:
“Teaching for me has been an education (Lord knows what it has been for my students).”
I hope that my students, and I figured out that there were close to 2,500 of them in the course of my career, got something out of their time with me. At the very least they gave me a lot of material for this book, and I’m fairly confident that most of them know how long a metre stick is now.
There are many people to thank, for their friendship, support and professional help over the years. In no particular order:
Thackery, for being the best Head of Department, and for being the kindest man I know.
The combined D&T Team from over the years: Thack, Dan, Francis, Mair, Hilary, Angus, John, Sarah W, Vicky, Jill, Ruth, Sarah M, Andrea, Anne, Jan, Caroline, Denise, Myles, Emma, Lorraine, Bernie, Kate, Leigh, Paul, Aimee.
Justin, Sandra, Graeme, Debbie G, Rosamund, Marion, Paul, Natasha, Sarah, Natalie and Kelly for showing me the way with Pastoral Care.
Sarah, Paul and Miss T for being very good friends as well as colleagues. Fiona for being uncommonly lovely and kind. Steph for being just as nerdy and frustrated as me. Jeanette for our many chats and for making me laugh a lot. Justin for listening to me at my most insane.
Thank you to Jay for everything.
And of course, thank you to the students for being completely bonkers and for making me laugh. This book would not have been possible without you.